Social Networking

The Evolution of Social Network Security

Picture 3-20-2014There’s an odd conflict in the world of social networks regarding privacy. Although social networks tend to be an arena for users to share information with everyone that they know, no matter if these are truly friends or mere acquaintances, the overall privacy of these social network profiles is constantly a hot-button issue. People want to be able to share private information with other Facebook users that they befriended after meeting them once in a bar, but are up in arms if that same information is accessible by strangers or the government. Though this split is a little bit silly in some ways, there are some genuine concerns to be had here and it is generally believed that Facebook and other social networks are doing what they can to protect what their users might consider private information.

The fact of the matter is that social networks are ripe for security breaches. Considering many social network users do not think about if the information or pictures they are posting might be made public, it has not been difficult for hackers (or even government agents) to access potentially damning information about social network users. The NSA has been confirmed to use fake Facebook servers to install malware on computers so that they have an easier time monitoring unsuspecting social network users.

It’s not just Facebook that’s been ripe for privacy breaches. Twitter and Snapchat have had issues with leaked usernames and passwords, which Snapchat responded to at the beginning of the year with privacy updates to its iOS and Android apps. It has been stated that Snapchat has added internal restrictions that make it more difficult for hackers to access private information such as usernames and passwords and Snapchat has also added security features allowing Snapchat users to opt out of the ‘Find Friends’ feature that uses their cell phone number.

Facebook has recently made their work on security a little bit more public so that Facebook users can see exactly what is being done in order to keep their own information private from hackers, government agents, and anyone else that might try to breach security. Some, however, do not trust Facebook regarding its relationship with privacy, and believe that Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp will lead to a lack of privacy in the popular messaging application as well.

One social networking and messaging application, Wickr, is already well-known for its impressive security and encryption features. The company has found a way to monetize their ‘Security Suite’ by offering it for sale to other social networks that wish to implement the level of privacy that is currently offered by Wickr, which has never sold user data or allowed any user data to be accessed by others. Wickr’s ‘Security Suite’ could be the wave of the future when it comes to social networking privacy.

Updated Designs for Facebook and Twitter

Picture 3-13-2014Perhaps due to the low attention span of millennials – the largest user base of social media – social networks like Facebook and Twitter often find themselves going through redesigns. Social networks like these have to be sure that they are keeping up with the times and integrating features that are practical for their users. Having a functional design is a large part of this, which is likely why Facebook and Twitter both recently went through redesigns of their own.

Twitter’s redesign came forth in early February and changed things quite a bit from a design perspective. The redesign was received with generally positive feedback from various news sources, as there has been a focus with this update to make sure the social network looks cleaner. Not to be left behind, Facebook rolled out their own redesign for its News Feed at the beginning of March.

However, it seems that even with these recent updates to the designs of Facebook and Twitter, neither company is satisfied with where they are at. A few people have already been able to view yet another new Twitter design update that seems to integrate aspects of Pinterest and Facebook. Though this is not a guarantee that the design will go through, as social networks have tested out designs in the past that never came to fruition, it is still possible that Twitter is looking into making an even larger update to their interface.

In Facebook’s case, they announced an overhaul roughly a year ago for their News Feed that never manifested itself. It is not yet known if this overhaul that was supposed to be launched last year has been abandoned entirely or if it is still an update that’s on the horizon. It’s possible Facebook is still making tweaks to it, especially seeing that other social networks like Twitter are making constant updates to their own interface. Either way, it’s very likely that Facebook and Twitter as they are now are not likely to look the same six months or a year from now.

New Social Networks Launching with Different Purposes

Picture 3-6-2014At this point in time, everyone has heard of Facebook and Twitter, and probably Instagram and Snapchat too. Whether or not certain people are willing to accept them, social networks are here to stay, and while there is a small group of social networks that everyone seems to have heard of, there are also plenty of smaller social networks out there trying to become the next big thing by offering new services and features that other social networks might not have available.

Some social networks are making a name for themselves by providing users with ways to connect that they previously did not have. For instance, Anchor is a social media network that is specifically for offices and allows users to keep their coworkers’ contact information in one easily available place. There are chatting functions and other options that make it useful for offices that want to stay connected with one another.

Another interesting social network that has been launched recently is Livewith.us, which is a social network for people who are looking for new roommates. As many people are fed up with the limitations of finding roommates on Craigslist, Livewith.us seeks to fill the void by providing users with a functional interface that allows users to find potential roommates that seem like they might be a good fit with one another. The social network even features some integration with Craigslist, knowing that it is currently the most popular way for people to find new roommates online.

There are also social networking apps that have delved into the ephemeral world that has been popularized by Snapchat. One prominent up-and-coming example of this is Wickr, which works similarly to Snapchat, only with a focus on sending temporary, self-destructing messages rather than sending photos. Wickr takes its security very seriously in order to ensure privacy of one’s messages. With new social networks and apps popping up left and right these days, it’s hard to tell which will be the ones that stick and which will fade away.

Facebook Pays $19 Billion for WhatsApp Acquisition

Picture 2-27-2014WhatsApp is an instant messaging app for smartphones that has been getting enormously popular in recent months, becoming the most popular messaging app for mobile devices; it works best as a messaging service that can send messages between phones internationally and allows for users to send text, images, audio, and video messages to one another. Some have stated that WhatsApp is doing for text messaging what Skype did to phone calls on landlines, in that it is totally revolutionizing the process.

Thus, it is unsurprising that a major company like Facebook took notice of WhatsApp, considering WhatsApp already had over 450 million users and was adding an additional million users every day at the time of the purchase, a number which is already increasing. With a growth rate that impeccable and a service that is extremely useful, Facebook leapt on the opportunity to purchase WhatsApp last week, by paying a whopping $19 billion to the employees of WhatsApp: $4 billion in cash, $12 billion in stock, and another $3 billion in stock grants that will be paid out if WhatsApp’s founders and staff remain employed by Facebook for four years.

Facebook has a tendency to always be growing, expanding, and changing with the market. The acquisition of WhatsApp is no different. Just like Facebook has continued to expand its other properties such as Instagram, they already have big plans for how to further enhance WhatsApp. Their first announcement has been that WhatsApp will be adding voice calls to its messaging service, putting it in competition with Skype and even mobile carriers.

There has been additional speculation about what Facebook will be doing with WhatsApp in the coming months. Though WhatsApp will continue to operate independently, it is likely that Facebook will do a lot of what it did for Instagram. The growth of WhatsApp and its user base is something that Facebook will likely focus on, as well as recruiting new employees from other companies and making design and coding changes to make WhatsApp better and more efficient.

Facebook Launches Paper, a News-Reading Application

Picture 2-6-2014Facebook’s most recent endeavor was launched for iOS on Monday; it’s a news reader application called Paper and it’s the first release from Facebook Creative Labs, a section of the company that is dedicated specifically to launching mobile apps that integrate Facebook in new and interesting ways. Thus far, the application is receiving positive reviews, integrating functions from Facebook and similar news reader apps like Flipboard and Feedly, while being packaged with an attractive and functional design.

One thing that’s particularly interesting about Paper’s design is that it lacks buttons. Instead, the app relies on swiping motions and phone tilts. The news reader will integrate both the News Feed of a user’s Facebook page as well as a variety of content sources such as popular blogs and news websites, which will allow Paper users to easily read or view all of the content and news that they are interested in.

Early reviews of Paper have been overwhelmingly positive, with some news sources even claiming that Paper could become a replacement for Facebook itself, due to the sleek way it integrates the News Feed and other useful information into one high quality application. Though Paper lacks some of the full features of Facebook, such as Events, it still includes most of the things that Facebook can do.

Not everyone is excited about Paper, however. In particular, a startup known as FiftyThree is upset about the name. Their own drawing application is also called Paper. However, their only trademark is for ‘Paper By FiftyThree’ rather than ‘Paper’ itself and it appears that the two companies are in a bit of a spat over the name. FiftyThree has attempted to trademark the name ‘Paper’ but this may be a legal loophole that allows Facebook to stick with the name.

Editing Posts and Tweaking Your Social Network Presence

Picture 1-30-2013In a smart move, Facebook began to allow the editing of posts last September in the web browser and in the Android version of the social network’s application. This was followed by a similar feature in the iOS application in October. It’s surprising how long it took Facebook to allow users to edit their posts, considering what a hassle it once was to correct a typo or edit a post for whatever other reason you might need to edit it for.

Though Facebook allowed users to edit comments on posts for over a year before implementing this feature, it was a breath of fresh air to finally be able to correct typos in the text of a Facebook post itself. Previously, a user would have to delete the post, lose all the Likes and comments, and repost the status entirely in order to fix a typo.

The reason that it took so long for Facebook to allow for users to edit their posts was because they wanted to prevent Facebook users from abusing this feature. For instance, they didn’t want someone to post something, wait until it got plenty of Likes, and then edit the post so that it looked like their Facebook friends had Liked something else entirely. The way that Facebook is getting around this is by offering an ‘Edit history’ to any post that is edited, so that users can see how the post has been changed.

Facebook is not the only social network that has allowed for recent editing functions. Vine also released an editing function in October, albeit one that operates a bit differently than the edit function on Facebook. Editing videos on Vine is referred to as ‘Time Travel’ and it allows users to reorganize different shots before posting videos on their Vine account, which will allow for many more interesting applications for the Vine social network.

The Death of Facebook?

Picture 1-23-2014I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that Facebook’s popularity amongst kids and teens has been on a decline. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has even noted that this is the first time that there has been a decrease in daily teenage users since the social network was launched a decade ago. Even though Facebook has over a billion active users, this recent decline has made some people believe that the death of Facebook, at least as the supreme reigning social network, might not be too far away.

A recent study done by researchers at Princeton University compared the growth and potential decline of Facebook to that of an epidemic disease. When comparing the spread of the social network’s popularity to the way diseases like the bubonic plague were once spread, the researchers were able to predict that the site’s user count will drop by 80 percent before the year 2017. The reason behind the study was that ideas have often been shown to spread infectiously before dying out, not unlike diseases. Losing interest in an idea can be compared to developing an immunity to a disease.

The researchers viewed the number of Google searches for Facebook and noticed that there had been a peak in December 2012. They were able to compare this to a similar peak in searches for MySpace in 2008, right before it began to head towards its eventual decline. Though the researchers did not insinuate what the successor to Facebook might be, it’s not impossible that their findings could be accurate, considering how MySpace was once at the height of popularity and now is not even close in popularity to many of its competitors.

One interesting report has stated that even President Obama is aware that Facebook is losing its ‘cool factor.’ Obama was quoted as saying, during a meeting regarding the 18-34 year old demographic, that “It seems like they don’t use Facebook anymore,” which shows that Facebook’s decline is something quite noticeable. With many teenagers and twenty-somethings turning to Instagram and Snapchat, it’s entirely plausible that Facebook’s user base may not be such a powerhouse in a few years.

The New Web Presence of Twitter and Vine

Picture 1-16-2014Though most people are using social networks through mobile phone applications these days, there is still room to grow and evolve when it comes to the actual web presence of social networks. This is something that Twitter has recently embraced with its new web design, as well as with the first web profiles for Vine, its popular video-sharing service, which until now has been exclusively available for usage on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone platforms, rather than being accessible via a computer.

Twitter’s new web design launched on Tuesday and according to Twitter, the site has been designed to reflect the look and feel of the iOS and Android apps. One of the larger non-aesthetic changes to the website is the built-in ‘compose’ box that is on the left side of the page. The intention of this box is to encourage users to tweet more rather than just browsing the Twitter pages of other people. Though the official launch occurred on Tuesday, the new design has not yet appeared for all users.

Additionally, full web profiles were launched on Vine in early January. The Vine website allows for easier browsing of videos posted on Vine and also includes a feature called TV Mode that lets users watch videos in full screen on their computers, which plays through videos one after the other instead of looping the same video over and over. Though the Vine website is still very new, there are plenty of potential ways that the social network’s web presence can be utilized, such as filming Vines through a webcam. As Vine develops, it is likely to add new features to both the mobile app and the website.

Inventor of Twitter Launches Jelly, a Q&A Social Media App

Picture 1-9-2014The social media world has recently been buzzing about the launch of Jelly, a new social media app that integrates existing social networks to help answer the questions of its users. The app has been launched by Biz Stone, who is best known as the co-founder and co-inventor of Twitter, who also worked on popular websites such as Xanga and Blogger over the course of his career. Stone has been working on Jelly since 2012, where the nature of the application was kept mostly under wraps.

Jelly was launched for iOS and Android on Tuesday and aims to compete with existing Q&A services such as ChaCha and Quora. There are a few features that separate Jelly from these other question and answer services. For one, users are able to post images alongside their questions (“What is this?” is frequently mentioned as a way images and questions can be used together). The social media app will allow friends on existing social networks — as well as friends of friends — to help answer questions that are posed on the Jelly platform.

Some people are very excited about the potential of Jelly. One blogger referred to the types of questions one would pose for Google compared to the questions that were meant for Jelly — “How much is this new video game?” versus “Is this game appropriate for my ten year old?” The ability to gain this sort of knowledge from someone a Jelly user knows directly or indirectly is exactly the appeal of the social media app.

However, while some have embraced Jelly since its recent launch, others are a bit more skeptical. One journalist mentioned a number of problems that Jelly users may run into. He described that many questions posed on Jelly are snarky or obviously ridiculous or pointless (“Should I drink coffee or tea?”) whereas others are clearly stealth marketing questions that may irk new users of the app. Even when genuinely interesting questions are posed, the answers are usually immediately available via existing search engines. Considering the application is merely days old, there is still a lot of room for growth, but the direction that growth ends up taking remains to be seen.

Recent Security Breaches for Social Networks

Picture 1-2-2014In early December, it was revealed that there had been yet another massive breach in social network security, as 2 million passwords were stolen in a hack that affected accounts for Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and more. The hackers, who are believed to have originated from the Netherlands, were using a virus that allowed them to access information for more than 93,000 websites, including many major social networks.

More recently, it appears that the security of Snapchat has also been compromised. A recent hack resulted in information regarding 4.6 million accounts getting posted on a website known as SnapchatDB.info. Though the site has since been suspended, the hackers were able to get information regarding phone numbers and passwords for all of these individual accounts.

According to the people behind Snapchat, the hole that allowed for this security breach has been sealed. However, some people believe that Snapchat’s response to the hack is evident of their existence as a very young startup company. One particular issue is that a group of ‘white hat hackers’ – people who find holes in security so that companies can prevent these kinds of breaches – had explicitly told Snapchat that there were holes that could be exploited. Yet Snapchat ignored this and didn’t even admit to their mistake in not listening when they released a brief statement regarding the breach.

Though these breaches in security have been unfortunate for a lot of people, one website is trying their hardest to help people find out whether or not their account has been compromised. The website ‘haveibeenpwned‘ allows people to enter their e-mail addresses that are used for these accounts to find out if theirs are among the accounts that have been compromised by any of these recent breaches. The website checks Adobe, Snapchat, Stratfor, Gawker, Yahoo!, Vodafone, Pixel Federation, and Sony accounts.